Explanation of German Units and Organizational Symbols
The symbols in this work are based on the official German handbook of military symbols (H.Dv. 272) of 24.03.1941, (with changes up to November 1941) and on the actual symbols used in the organizational charts (Kriegsgliederungen des Feldheers, (15.05.1941 through May 1942)). Where symbols in the latter are at variance with the former, those symbols of the organizational charts have been used.
In German organizational charts (and, as reflected here), the headquarters symbol represents two purposes. First, it indicated the size, function, and mobility of the unit. And, second, it also indicated the headquarters of that echelon itself. I.e., there was no separate symbol for this echelon’s headquarters. For all headquarters units with (and sometimes important units without) separate KStN, the corresponding symbols were placed to the right of the echelon’s symbol. The same applied to those units that were directly assigned to the echelon’s headquarters.
The different functions and mobility additions were used to enhance the echelon’s symbol to indicate a specific purpose. Company-sized units and sub-units symbols were also modified in a similar fashion.
The Germans numbered their units on organizational charts from the right. I.e., the first company was on the far right, and the last company was on the far left. The same applied to battalions and regiments.
An interesting feature of company and sub-unit symbols is that their size and shape dimensions could be altered to fit the diagram being depicted with them. Several infantry companies, for example, were placed side-by-side, elongated upwards, (so that all weapons symbols could fit within), and only the left-hand company had the thickened edge used to indicate its size (more of this below). The variations in size and shape followed the original configuration, so that the basic symbol was still recognizable as such.
The symbols were intended to be mnemonic. The headquarters symbols reflected the units’ pennants used on vehicles or the standards themselves. (These flags and pennants were of different colors to represent the various combat arms, and usually had a number, letter, and/or heraldic symbol superimposed upon them). Hence, any German looking at one of these symbols could immediately recognize the unit type being depicted. The colors in real life were substituted by the unit function and mobility modifiers above and below the symbols. In addition, a simplified version of the organizational symbols was, for example, painted on unit vehicles.
The mobility of the unit was also quickly recognizable. The two small circles (‘wheels’) underneath a symbols identified the unit as being motorized. In case these wheels were over the symbol (applied only to artillery-type units), this indicated that the unit was motorized by half-tracked prime movers. Elongated ovals (‘tracks’) applied underneath the symbol meant that the unit was self-propelled.
All units assigned to Panzer divisions were at least motorized, so that it was thought that the addition of the motorization wheels to the upright staff symbol could be dispensed with, and that the Panzer-Truppen pennant was indication enough.
Although the official handbook indicated that armored infantry units should have the halftrack symbol underneath them instead of the motorized symbol, this practice was not yet followed in most organizational charts at that time. The diagrams in this book reflect this usage.
The lozenge symbol represented armor. All tank units used this symbol. It was shaped to reflect World War I tanks, and hence provided a good memory assist.
Aside from a very few specialized symbols, which were quickly memorized, all company-sized and smaller unit symbols tended to reflect the units’ function or at least their main weapon. In most cases, a unit too difficult to depict easily was instead represented by a box with a corresponding abbreviation inside. In case it belonged to a particular arm, the arms symbol could be placed on top of or within this box. Where various modifiers applied, these were all added to the symbol.
Company-sized units had, somewhere within their symbol, a thickened part, usually a side.
Excluded from this were the firing artillery (tube, rocket-launcher, and Army anti-aircraft) batteries. There, the weapon symbol itself in firing batteries (usually with the number of guns underneath) indicating a battery. (Firing artillery in units smaller than battery size were depicted on a smaller scale). None-firing batteries of the artillery arm followed the normal form of thickening a portion of the symbol to indicate their size. Infantry-type artillery (anti-aircraft and infantry gun) and well as machine gun companies followed the normal practice, and the weapon symbols representing these types of companies had the upright stems thickened accordingly.
Where several columns, platoons, or detachments were gathered into a headquarters company or heavy company, (and each of these sub-units had its own KStN), these symbols were enclosed in a box without a thick side.
Please note that although these organizational symbols are similar to the tactical symbols used on vehicles to indicate their unit, they are NOT identical. The tactical symbols used on vehicles had a simplified system.